New York City’s scores on state-wide standardized tests continued to show unacceptable performance…by the education bureaucracy, complacent parents, and distracted elected officials.
The victims in this annual exercise, the powerless students, will be blamed as usual. Someone will offer them a bootstrap with which to pull themselves up. But the students aren’t failing, it’s the system that’s failing to educate them. When will the incompetence end? When will parents say, “Enough is enough”? And when will the local media cover this story – a crisis worse than NYCHA, mass transit, or DeBlasio/Cuomo?
Every spring, public and charter school students in grades 3-8 (generally 8-14 years olds) take the state exams, which are intended to provide a sort of report card measuring the performance of students, and to some extent teachers/schools. The 2018 results, reflecting tests taken last April, continue to depress. For the city as a whole, less than half of test takers were rated “proficient’ in English (46.7%) or math (42.7%.)
These numbers should and would cause alarm in any (to paraphrase the President) “fecal matter-hole” country along the equator. They should be totally unacceptable in the global capital of finance, entertainment, and U.N. diplomacy. But the media coverage, which can transform an “issue” into an “issue that must be addressed now” has been practically silent. The poor performance, while catastrophic, was not unexpected. This is not news-worthy.
Even worse than the overall scores are the performance of New York’s non-White public school student majority. This group includes large numbers of immigrant children whose primary language is not English. Summaries indicate that barely one third of Black students passed the English/ELA exam (34%) and about one quarter of students (25.5%) were proficient in math. Among Latino students, 30.3% were proficient in math and 30.3% were proficient in English. For English language learners, 10% passed the language skills test and 18% were proficient in math.
Groups that outperformed the city wide averages included whites (63.6% in math and 66.5% in English,) and charter school students (57.3% in English and 59.6% in math according to non-NYCDOE estimates.) In continuance of a recent trend, Asian students earned the highest scores on the exams, with proficiency rates of 72.2% in math and 67.2% in English. Analysis of who’s ahead, and why they are ahead, could offer clues on how to improve overall student performance. That analysis is yet to be done.
The bad news test results were made available to the public on September 26th, much later than the usual mid-August unveiling. Many activist parents argue that the mid-summer release dates are intended to bury the story of the low scores. The source of the delay in reporting was a test “redesign,” changes made to simplify or de-stress the test and the parents of test takers. Of course, by changing the test, you make comparisons to earlier tests invalid. Any attempt to identify a trend, either positive or negative, is invalid.
During the last few test cycles there has been a significant “Opt-Out” movement of parents opposed to high stakes testing in general and to the political uses or abuses related to the testing/common core education policy. This year and last year, approximately 20 % of eligible students statewide chose not to take the test. In New York City, the opt out number is about 5%, much lower than the state as a whole. Ironically, parents from the relatively high scoring communities are much more likely to have their children avoid the tests than the parents whose children are at the bottom of the proficiency charts.
OLD MAYOR WELCOMES NEW BASELINE TO MEASURE “PROGRESS”
The well-organized “Opt Out” movement, and dissatisfaction with the Common Core education policy have forced the education bureaucrats to make revisions in the exams given last spring. The changes – including a shift in duration from three days to two days and provision of more time for students to work on each section – were intended to appease dissatisfied parents and in that way to halt the progress of the boycotts.
One interesting, and for the Mayor politically fortunate, by-product of the new tests is an inability to determine whether there has been any system-wide progress compared to earlier annual exams. When announcing the release of the test scores, State Education Commissioner Elia indicated that there could be no validity to any year-to-year comparisons, saying “No matter how hard the temptation, you cannot do it.”
That didn’t stop New York City’s top “educators” from trying to claim non-existent evidence of forward progress. Chancellor Carranza was quoted as saying, ..These scores are indicative of the sustained progress we have made in classrooms, schools and districts across all five boroughs..” Of course the “sustainability” claim is invalid because there can be no comparisons to prior year performance.
The Mayor also overstated or misstated the message of the exams in his 9/26 statement that said, “We now have a school system that is steadily improving before our eyes. We’ve seen steady gains across our students’ state math and English exams…” However, the “steady improvement,” claim, indeed any improvement claim cannot be based on one exam – especially an exam that is structurally unrelated to earlier versions.
Unlike our President, the administration did correct its rhetoric; issuing a statement stating that the new exams “..now give us a baseline to work from in the years ahead. We have a new Chancellor and a new leadership team at the DOE.”
Five years into his administration, the Mayor’s education failures are getting old. Your “baseline” measurement should be the conditions in late 2013, not last week. From that perspective, improvements are hard to prove.